Technologies of Care in Chinese Hospitals

Date: 18 July 2017
Time: 3:30pm
Venue: Room 1066, 10F, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus, HKU

Technologies of Care in Chinese Hospitals by Dr. Priscilla Song (Department of Anthropology, Washington University in St. Louis)

As processes of dying shift to hospital settings in urban China, my research provides ethnographic insight into how the medicalization of death intersects with changes in family-based caregiving in these new institutional venues. Based on anthropological fieldwork in emergency rooms and intensive care units in Beijing, Shanghai, and Henan province, I examine how the possibilities of technological intervention are transforming familial, professional, and societal responsibilities in the context of an aging population and an unevenly privatized healthcare system. Medical anthropologists (Kaufman 2005), historians (Rothman 1997), and sociologists (Chambliss 1996) have examined how the culture and organizational structure of American hospitals prolong death and dehumanize care through the routine use of invasive life-sustaining technologies for critically ill patients in the U.S. The increasingly fragmented and privatized Chinese health care system provides a crucial comparison for localizing the institutionalization of death in a different sociohistorical context. As the former emphasis on state-funded preventive care during Mao's era of collectivism has given way to a market-driven pursuit of high-tech interventions under Deng and more recent efforts to promote universal health insurance coverage, these shifting state priorities are entwining with the technocratic logic of biomedicine to structure human suffering in new ways.

About the speaker:
Dr. Priscilla Song is a medical anthropologist working at the nexus of global health, science and technology studies, and China studies. She is the author of Biomedical Odysseys: Fetal Cell Experiments from Cyberspace to China (Princeton University Press 2017).

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